This is basically a short introduction to the many women and their contribution during pre-independence in the Tamil society. The article was not edited and hence there could be a few mistakes in the formulation of sentences. The whole article has been divided into three parts. The first part is an introduction to the main women participants in the Tani Thamizh Iyakkam, Anti hindi agitations, 1937/38, Dravidian Movement. The second part is a continuation of the first part extending the introduction to a few other women and a brief introduction to their contribution. The third part talks about the works of Neelambikai Ammaiyar whose works survived the suppression of the patriarchal society. For non-Tamils, the word “Ammaiyar” used as a part of the name is more like a respectable way of referring to a woman.
On 14 November, 1938, a motley crowd of housewives, intellectuals, authors and professionals gathered before the Theosophical High School and raised slogans like “Down with English”, “Down with Hindi” along with “Thamizh Vaazhga”. Five women were jailed. Among them were Moovalur Ramamirtham, Malarmugathammai, Pattammal, Dharmambal, Neelambikai Ammaiyar. Many more women courted arrest in 1939 during rallies against English and Hindi.
Tani Thamizh Iyakkam provided women with an avenue to oppose the patriarchal society and also to empower themselves. Women’s participation in the Tani Thamizh Iyakkam and Dravidian movement has its base in various national, ethnic, linguistic and gender concerns and hence there was a variety of stance exhibited by different women and quite a few of them supported more than one specific movement.
Achalambikkai Ammaiyar and Kumudini were opposed to western education and hindi and believed that education should gear the woman to be a better wife, mother, care taker of the family. They were supporters of a patriarchal society. Moovalur Ramamirtham was someone who was against the patriarchal order which made her a “Devadasi”. She like many others came from “Isai Vellalar” caste in which women took up the “Devadasi” profession and men traditionally took up profession as musicians, specifically playing the “Nadaswaram”.
The women from the “Isai Vellalar” caste were not subjected to the same patriarchal rules of child marriage, widowhood; they were more open to ideas of equality acquired through western education which was also denied to the women in the traditional Tamil society. Since most women from this caste were made to take up the devadasi profession, most women who came from this caste openly opposed the devadasi system and were ardent supporters of the Devadasi abolition bill. The Tamil word for prostitute "Thevidiya" comes from "Thevar-adiyaal" which is an exact translation of "Deva-Dasi"
Neelambikai Ammaiyar is the torch bearer for the women’s contribution since her writings have survived the suppression of the patriarchal society. She was conferred the title of “Tani Thamizh Tiruvatti” (Champion of Pure Tamil Movement) in the 1940s. She passed away in 1945. Dr. Dharmambal carried on popularizing the importance of Tamil among women folk and was conferred the title of “Veera Thamizh Annai”(Valiant Thamizh Mother) in 1951.
The title of “Periyar” was conferred on E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker on
Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar participated in the anti hindi agitations in 1938 and later joined the “Suya Mariyadhai Iyakkam” (Self-Respect Movement) but withdrew from it after Periyar refused to give primary importance to the Devadasi bill which would prohibit the Devadasi system. This along with Periyar’s marriage to Maniammai who was around forty years younger to him made many other women like Thamaraikanniyar to move away from Periyar.
Most of the works of these women were destroyed by their close relatives since they believed that such outright violations of established social order would bring bad name to the family. Thus, we are not left with much evidence of works of such women who left their mark by mobilizing the women folk in these movements.